An atlas of replacement methods in developmental biology
"To facilitate the switch to replacement methods, we need to persuade researchers of the new in vitro methods’ value by showing them what the models can and can't do", explains Alexandre Mayran from EPFL.
Developmental biologists study the development of living things: How does an entire organism with millions of cells develop from a single fertilised egg? Which genes have to be activated when and how to ensure that the process runs smoothly? Nowadays, the researchers studying these processes need embryos from animals such as mice.
In recent years, however, research groups have developed alternatives to these animal models in the form of gastruloids – artificially produced (in vitro), three-dimensional cell models that have certain properties that are similar to the animal model. While gastruloid models have advantages, they also have disadvantages, one of which is that they are still a long way from being able to reproduce all developmental processes one-to-one.
This is where the research project led by Alexandre Mayran of EPFL comes in. "To facilitate the switch to replacement methods, we need to persuade researchers of the new in vitro methods’ value by showing them what the models can and can't do." It is an area where Mayran can draw on his own experience: "Our team has been able to replace 80 percent of animal experiments in our lab with gastruloids."
In their NRP 79 research project, Mayran and his team will systematically analyse the gastruloid models that are currently available and compare them with animal models. They will then create a sort of atlas of gastruloid and existing similar models that will help research groups decide which model is best suited to their research question. Finally, they will engineer alternative culture conditions to develop complementary in vitro models and open these replacement methods up to other biological systems.
Expanding the toolbox of stem cell derived models of embryos